David Cameron has announced his resignation as Prime Minister after the historic EU referendum delivered clear backing for Brexit.
The Prime Minister said he accepted the verdict of the ‘great democratic exercise’ which saw the Leave campaign triumph after stacking up votes across England and Wales – despite massive support for Remain in Scotland and major cities including London.
The Pound nose-dived to its lowest level against the US dollar for 31 years as traders took fright at the news, and the stock market slumped by 8 per cent within minutes of opening. SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon has already raised the prospect of a second independence referendum in Scotland.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is also coming under intense pressure over his role in the botched Remain campaign.
Flanked by wife Samantha in Downing Street, Mr Cameron said he had been ‘proud’ to serve as PM for the past six years.
But he said it would not be right for him to be the ‘captain of the ship’ while the UK negotiated its exit from the EU.
‘The will of the British people must be respected,’ he said.
Choking back emotion, Mr Cameron said he would not depart immediately and would seek to calm the markets over the coming ‘weeks and months’.
But he said a new Prime Minister should be in place for the Conservative Party conference in October.
The bombshell announcement came after a night of high drama that included:
Sunderland voted by a massive 61 per cent to 39 per cent for Brexit – far higher than expected. In Swansea, where Remain had been forecast to win by 10 percentage points, Leave ended up by 52 per cent to 48 per cent.
Among a slew of poor results, Remain also only won by 51 per cent to 49 per cent in Newcastle, less than many had anticipated.
The final outcome of the referendum was 51.9 per cent for Leave to 48.1 per cent, with the winning margin more than a million votes.
The news sent the Pound plunging against the US dollar, losing around 20 cents to hit its lowest level since 1985. The stock market is also expected to open down around 8 per cent.
The Bank of England has moved to reassure investors that it will take ‘all necessary steps’ to stabilise the economy
The Brexit victory came despite Mr Farage admitting seconds after polls closed that Remain looked to have ‘edged’ the referendum. Boris Johnson reportedly told a passenger on the Tube that his side had lost the referendum battle.
Final polls had also predicted a Remain victory by up to 54-46.
More than 80 Tory Brexit backers have written to David Cameron urging him to stay on in Downing Street whatever the outcome.
The direction of the battle started to become clear with a shock result in Sunderland which saw the Out camp win by 61 per cent to 39 per cent. Analysis before the referendum had suggested Leave could be on track to win if they were more than six percentage points ahead.
A surprise victory for Brexit in Swansea, where the pro-EU side had been expecting to romp home, signposted a disastrous showing for Remain across Wales. Areas like Carmarthenshire decisively turned their back on Brussels.
Newcastle was less clear cut for the pro-EU side than they had hoped, seeing them sneak home by just 51 per cent to 49 per cent.
Remain had some bright spots, with chunky wins in London, Scotland and Oxford. Wandsworth in particular piled in with a massive 77 per cent in favour of staying.
However, the big English cities and Scotland were not enough to offset the will of the rest of the country, and Leave passed the finishing post at 6am.
Speaking at a jubilant Leave.EU rally in central London, Mr Farage said June 23 would go down in history as ‘our independence day’.
In a remark that could prove controversial after Labour MP Jo Cox was shot dead last week, Mr Farage said the country was separating from the EU ‘without a single bullet being fired’ .
‘Dare to dream that the dawn is breaking on an independent United Kingdom,’ he said.
‘This, if the predictions now are right, this will be a victory for real people, a victory for ordinary people, a victory for decent people.
‘We have fought against the multinationals, we have fought against the big merchant banks, we have fought against big politics, we have fought against lies, corruption and deceit.
The SNP leader added: ‘Scotland has contributed significantly to the Remain vote across the UK. That reflects the positive campaign the SNP fought, which highlighted the gains and benefits of our EU membership, and people across Scotland have responded to that positive message.
‘We await the final UK-wide result, but Scotland has spoken – and spoken decisively.’
Former first minister Alex Salmond told the BBC: ‘Scotland looks like it is going to vote solidly Remain. If there was a Leave vote in England, dragging us out the EU, I’m quite certain Nicola Sturgeon would implement the SNP manifesto.’
Shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn told the BBC he did not think the PM was ‘going to remain in his job for very long at all’.
‘If you are the Prime Minister, you’ve called this referendum, you’ve laid your reputation on the line and your arguments, I think it’s going to be very hard.’
Former Europe minister and Labour MP Keith Vaz told the BBC the outcome would be a ‘catastrophe’. ‘Frankly, in a thousand years I would never have believed that the British people would have voted this way,’ he said.
‘And they have done so and I think that they voted emotionally rather than looking at the facts.
‘It’ll be catastrophic for our country, for the rest of Europe and indeed the world.’
He added: ‘The issues of immigration are extremely important, if you look at the campaign I think that there needed to be a much stronger campaign to stay in.’
Labour’s Jonathan Ashworth said the Conservative Party was ‘utterly preoccupied with leadership infighting rather than the future of the country’, adding: ‘This letter cannot unsay what senior Tory politicians have been telling us for weeks – that the British people simply cannot trust David Cameron.’